A voice from the past

Last week I had a call from a gentleman clearing out some offices just down from the Cathedral. It was an Estate Agent’s, a firm who have been in the Cathedral parish since 1804. One of this gentleman’s predecessors had been Warden and subsequently on the Chapter of the Cathedral and the family has had a long association with the place.

Anyway, in clearing out they’d found some old prints of the Cathedral – ‘would we like them?’. So I went to collect them and when I got there the chap said ‘I wonder if you’d like these?’ One was the brochure from the 1950’s fund raising appeal for £25k (how times have changed – or not!), the other was the text of a sermon preached by Provost Ernest Southcott on Sunday, January 21st, 1968. That was the Third Sunday after the Epiphany and the sermon was all about the introduction of ‘Series 2’. It made fascinating reading and has come just at the right moment for us as we are putting together our liturgical plan and this is part of the history.

Ernie Southcott's book on baptism

Ernie Southcott’s book on baptism

So I thought I’d share it with you. For the very young, Series 2 was the first real venture of the Church of England into post Vatican II liturgical revision. It was a blue little booklet and was followed by a aquamarine booklet (Series 3) which was followed by the ASB and then Common Worship. Anyway, this was the sermon.

The Centurion in the Gospel says, “for I am a man under authority, I say go.. do this”. He recognised Jesus’ authority as much greater than his own. A former Bishop of Bradford came to a Youth Conference I was leading. He stayed for five minutes. He was asked to say the usual few words. “There are two words that Jesus uses a great deal, one is COME and the other is GO. It is no use COMING unless you GO, and it is no use GOING unless you COME.” and then he blew!

Coming and going – this is the rhythm of the Christian life. COME in worship – COME in prayer – COME in silence – COME in Bible-reading – COME in retreat!

GO in work – GO in service – GO in leisure – GO in politics – GO – GO; and in the GOING be driven out into this glorious world and in mission and obedience.

For eighteen years in Halton, Leeds we struggled to discover what a Parish is for. For six years in Southwark we have struggled to discover what a Cathedral is for. In Halton one of the things we discovered was the need for a rallying point for worship and mission. This rallying point, both in the Parish Church and in the House Church was the bit of bread, which is Holy Communion. In Southwark one of the things we are discovering is the need for a rallying point for worship and mission. This rallying point in the Cathedral and the Diocese is the bit of bread, which is Holy Communion.

Series II Holy Communion Service will be introduced at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 10th, with rehearsals at twenty to eleven on the previous two Sundays. Series II Communion Service is an attempt by the Church of England to strengthen this rallying point for worship and mission. To help to give it meaning and reality.

The Bishop last week quite rightly encouraged us to support the “Back Britain” Campaign. This does not mean ‘my country right or wrong’, nevertheless “Thou shalt love thy country as thyself”. We cannot contract out of it. The Provost this week encourages you to support the Church of God, and the fragmentation of this Church that you belong to, the Church of England. This does not mean ‘my Church right or wrong’. It certainly does not mean this in the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, when we acknowledge “God help England, and God help the world” if the only expression of Christianity was Anglican! And there is no one in Christ we haven’t something to learn from. Nevertheless, “Thou shalt love thy Church as thyself”. We cannot contract out of it. Series II is not a perfect liturgy any more than the C of E is a perfect Church – any more than this congregation is made up of perfect people.

Series II is an attempt to proclaim the Gospel of worship. It is an attempt to hold up Christ before the congregation in Word, in sacrament, in mission, and to do this together – corporately. Series II seeks to stress our need to COME and GO; to stress our need to learn to worship here; and to stress our need to learn to obey out there. So all of Series II is a sharing. It says we are only really significant as we share our lives with others.

In Liturgy God conducts a rehearsal with us. This service is the rehearsal. The real thing is out there. The real thing is eventually up there, but here and now it is out there. The rehearsal in Series II is divided into 38 sections. Only three or five of these are by Priest or priests alone. 18 sections can be said by Priest and Congregation together. 7 sections can be said individually by Priest or Layman. The balance of 8 are either optional extras or directive rubrics.

The older liturgies tended to be Priest-dominated. Series II is a serious exploration into corporate worship. We may not like it, but Series II is seeking to get us involved with each other. It shouts for a central altar. It shouts for a gathering round the table. We are to learn to face up to each other: to learn to close our eyes because we cannot stand facing up to each other a moment longer on our own. Thank God he is with us. The Bible helps us to look up – “Look up for your redemption draweth nigh” and “the heavenly Jerusalem coming down out of heaven”. This facing up to each other, and looking up to God would really be easier without chairs or pews. We could stand shoulder to shoulder like our Orthodox brethren. This is why, if this central altar-table is more and more to become to become the focal point in our Cathedral, we must make it more obvious, raising it with a free-standing altar, lights, etc.

This worship together would be easier if we had more silence like the Quakers; more free prayer like the Free Churches. Canon Couratin, one of the Bishop’s examining chaplains is one of the architects of Series II. He wanted the confession (if included at all), the intercession and thanksgiving to be left with just dots for silence or spontaneous utterance from the congregation. What we have in Series II is a compromise. It is hoped that we will deal mainly with Confession before we get there. It is hoped that the intercession will bring together real silence and relevant intercession. It is hoped that the whole service will be dominated with thanksgiving. It is Eucharist and the THANKS time in the Eucharist is called THE THANKSGIVING, and includes “Let’s give thanks! Let’s Eucharist!” It includes the Sanctus – ‘Heaven and earth are full of thy glory’. It includes taking bread and taking the cup and giving thanks to God.

Giving thanks for the Creator and the created universe.
Giving thanks for the Redeemer and the redeemed community.
Giving thanks for the Sanctifier and the wing beat of the Spirit.

We mainly stand rather than kneel in Series II, for normally the Church gives thanks standing shoulder to shoulder. Please note that there is not one directive to kneel in the whole of this service! So when we come to discuss the question of new chairs, we shall have to decide whether we are to kneel and sit and stand, or only sit and stand. For instance, we can seat 250 more people if we do not kneel! On March 10th we are compromising on this. There will be more standing, but there will still be kneeling, or a choice. We cannot escape the fact that this is primarily an Alleluia service, a thanksgiving for the mighty acts of God.

The reading and the preaching of the Word is primarily Good News; when we come to say “I can’t go on believing that this is God’s world on my own”. “I can’t go on believing in my neighbour on my own”. “I can’t go on believing in myself on my own”.

In this service, Christ says, “This is my body”. “You are my body”. Through the broken bread and the shared cup Christ says, “You are not on your own”, and therefore we go out from this breaking and from this sharing in hope.

Yesterday we did Series II at the Readers’ Service. This was certainly one of the ways the Liturgical Commission wished it to be used. Yet there was nothing particular for the Choir to do. Series II could eliminate the special place of the choir. On March 10th we shall compromise. The Kyries will be sung as now. The Benedictus will be sung as now. After the great Thanksgiving we shall kneel and the Choir will sing the Benedictus, and we shall be silent together. Then the Breaking of Bread with Versicle and Response followed by the Lord’s Prayer with our grammar right, “Our Father WHO art in heaven”. At the beginning of the Administration the Choir will sing the Agnus Dei as now. The Administration will involve the administrator and the communicant together in a Versicle and Response – ‘The Body of Christ’ : ‘Amen’. ‘The Blood of Christ’ : ‘Amen’, each communicant saying ‘Amen’ twice. Amen alleluia!

The receiving of communion gives its own absolution: we have touched the coal from off the altar and our iniquity is done away. The communion is its own blessing. It is superfluous to add the blessing to blessing. On March 10th we shall compromise. The absolution will be given; the blessing will not.

After receiving the communion we ought to get up from our knees and go straight out; go out in a rush. On March10th we shall compromise – a short prayer of “Going-out” said together and then

V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit.
V. Go forth in peace. R. Thanks be to God.

Go out for what? Go out for mission: mission begins inside each one of us. Mission begins inside this Service. Mission is how we look at people.

We have learned – if we have learned anything from Sunday Nights in Southwark – we have learned something to do with helping people to see that the Church must be open-ended. That it is not contradictory to break bread in the cathedral in the morning, and to drink coffee in the Cathedral in the evening; to share in the breaking of the Word in the morning and to struggle with its meaning in the evening. On March 10th we shall introduce Series II. We shall wait and see whether we ought to have the coffee hour brought over from the Chapter House to the Cathedral. I shall be writing about March 10th and Series in my Provost’s Letter. In the meantime, let us pray that we may co-operate with what the C of E is asking us to explore. We are seeking to stir something of the world into worship; something of worship into the world.

A 1960's image of the Cathedral

A 1960’s image of the Cathedral

Last week we learned to listen to our Moslem and Jewish brother. Tonight we shall learn to listen to our Marxist brother. This Thursday at St George’s Cathedral we shall be listening to our Roman Catholic brother. What a lot we have to learn about recognising the authority of Christ wherever God speaks; to learn what it means to hear Christ in today’s world say COME – GO – DO this.

It is amazing – so much they began on 10 March 1968 is reflected in what we do today and that emphasis on worship and mission – Come and Go – is still what we struggle with. We do have a final blessing but much of what Ernie did here and did at St Wilfrid’s Halton continues to bear fruit.

Lord,
you call us to come and worship
you send us to go and tell.
May the voices of the past
encourage us
and the voices of the present
empower us.
Amen.

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